COLUMBIA - Music is a big part of Missouri wide receiver Jared Perry's daily routine. Pass him on the street while he is walking to class, and the junior will probably be listening to hip-hop, most likely something by Lil' Wayne.
One of the rapper's songs, "Remember Me," could symbolize Perry's 2008 season. Perry slipped from the minds of Tiger fans in 2007, but appears to be back to form this year.
"I'm trying (to step up), I put in a lot of hard work during the spring ball and the summertime," Perry said. "Hopefully, it's going to pay off, and it has so far."
As a freshman in 2006, Perry established himself, along with fellow freshman Danario Alexander, as an important target for quarterback Chase Daniel.
Perry scored a touchdown in his first game on Faurot Field, one of three in a season in which he caught 37 passes. Since he had done that on a team of veterans, his future looked bright.
But somewhere last year, that bright future took a wrong turn. The receiver that made plays as a freshman caught only 13 passes and did not score, despite playing in all 14 games for the Tigers.
"He did a lot of good things his freshman year," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Last year, he kind of fell off a little bit."
Along with battling Tigers veterans for playing time, Perry spent his sophomore season in the shadow of newcomer Jeremy Maclin, who burst on the scene after recovering from a knee injury that forced him to redshirt.
Although Daniel likes to spread the football around, there are only so many passes in a game, and Perry found himself the odd man out among the Tigers' plethora of receivers.
"It was real frustrating, to be honest," Perry said. "But I think everything happens for a reason. I feel that God did that for me to learn. It's a learning thing, because everybody can't have a great season every year."
Perry speaks now of how that experience helped him grow as a player, but it took time and some serious discussion for him to develop that perspective.
"I just went home Christmas break and talked to my family," Perry said. "I just had to sit down and think about some things. I wouldn't let the past conquer the present, I had to make plays and step up. (My family told me), ‘Don't get down and just keep your head going forward.'"
Perry wasn't the only one on the Missouri roster who knew that changes needed to be made. Daniel recognized that Perry wasn't the same target he had been as a freshman, and with the Tigers bringing in more talent at wide receiver, it was apparent that Perry needed to fix what Daniel called a mental issue or risk dropping on the depth chart.
"I think maybe last year, he thought ‘Hey, I've arrived. I'm a Freshman All-American, I'm just going to start, I'm going to go and make plays,'" Daniel said. "It got a little bit mental in the first couple games, the Ole Miss game, I think is where it started. He just went back, started from square one again and started working hard again.
"(He realized) that ‘Hey, I have to get a lot better if I want to compete, there's some people who are going to take my spot if I don't.'"
Now, it's Perry who's taken a spot with Alexander still recovering from a knee injury he suffered in last year's Big 12 championship game. Alexander is expected to return in time for Missouri's game against Nevada on Sept. 13, but for now, the job is Perry's. After the rough experience of his sophomore year, he intends to make the most of his chance.
If last week's game was any indication, Perry is back on Daniel's radar. He finished with five catches for 95 yards against Illinois, keeping the Illini defense from focusing more on Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman.
"I don't think he really was a forgotten man last year," Daniel said. "It was mental with him. He worked very hard in spring ball and summer ball to get that trust back, not only with me, but with the coaches as well. It paid off last week, 95 yards receiving, we'll take that every single game."
Perry's willingness to accept a role as a decoy is a sign of the progress he's made in a year. By his own admission, Perry hopes to take the spotlight off Maclin and Coffman. If that's how he contributes to the Missouri offense, that's fine with him.
"I've matured a lot," Perry said. "Coming in as a freshman, I didn't know too much. Then my sophomore year, I got a little slumped back because of the talent we had. (Now) I feel pretty good, (I'm) getting used to the system and getting comfortable with the system. I'm just trying to make plays."
That'll help re-establish Perry in the minds of Tiger fans. According to Pinkel, making plays is exactly what he's been doing.
"I thought Jared played really well (against Illinois), he made a lot of plays," Pinkel said. "I'm well pleased with his progress."